- Julie Baron, LCSW-C
Parenting Teens with Authenticity...
...is hard. Why?
Here are my thoughts. We often feel we are walking on eggshells trying not to set off an emotional explosion. We fear our kids will shut us out or lie to us to avoid listening to us or disappointing us. We are busy, stressed and oh so tired and just can’t handle an argument or push back. We worry if we upset our children, they will do something impulsive or dangerous or just leave. We are riddled with comparisons from the postings of other parents and all the SHOULDS that our teens may or may not be living up to. How about the questioning fellow parents on how they could possibly LET their teen do (fill in the blank), as if our teens are not separate beings. And there is more. It’s no wonder why being honest, forthcoming and transparent with our teens is such a challenge. And we haven’t even discussed the pitfalls of tolerating their authenticity (lest it not match what we hope, expect or compare with others.)
I believe that in order to foster authenticity in our parenting approaches and within our relationship with our teens, there are a few things we have to accept:
1) We need to tolerate difficult emotions (theirs and ours).
2) We need to let go of SHOULDS and know that what is right for each teen is different
and we have to figure out with their collaboration what that looks like.
3) We may have to accept that the person our teen is growing into is not the vision we
had for who we thought they would be. As Wendy Mogul describes, kids are like
raising a fruit or vegetation, except the bag of seeds is unmarked. It is up to us to
observe them and know how much food, water, sunlight and the right temperature
they need to grow. A strawberry will never grow into an oak tree.
Helpful strategies for exhibiting authenticity in parenting are the same as above but with a twist:
Be honest about what you know and what you don’t know. You don’t always have to know in the moment asked how you will respond to a request. You can hear them out and let them know you need time to think it through (ie: can I go to…)
Be transparent. Consider where your own lines are with regard to oversharing vs. undersharing personal experiences.
Share of yourself. Be real with thoughts, opinions, values and emotions. Accept that yours may not also be theirs.
Teens want their privacy and that is valid. Parent gut is also a powerful detector and worthy of scrutiny. Be open with your teen if you are in search of information that can help you determine if they are at risk or in danger. Ask them as well. If they say everything is fine and your gut says it is not, describe the discrepancy in your observation from their words and see where that leads. If questions are explored with genuine concern rather than judgment and a goal to catch, your chances for an honest interaction are much better. It also sets you up to collaborate with them on a solution.